Tomorrow – October 4 – is super Thursday (the day of the year upon which more books are published than any other). With 2018 set to be a record-breaker, here, in-the-nick-of-time, is a helpful guide for the fictionally inclined to steer you through the overwhelming bounty of the season.
With translated fiction, short stories, crime, re-issued classics, biographical narratives, family sagas and historical epics we are in for many a treat this month.
The Farm by Héctor Abad; translated by Anne McLean
(World Editions, 9781642860108, p/b, £12.99)
A plurivocal family chronicle, telling the stories of the Ángel family, alongside a narrative of Colombia’s turbulent recent and ancient history.
After their parents’ death, Pilar, Eva and Antonio have to decide the fate of their family’s legacy. While Pilar and Tono want to keep La Oculta, Eva, who experienced something terrible at the old farm house, is determined to sell. As the siblings each struggle with their own problems, their inner conflicts threaten to tear apart not only their home but also their family.
Heroes in the Evening Mist by William Ash
(New Internationalist, 9781780264738, p/b, £9.99)
The last and previously unpublished novel by William Ash – the legendary WWII escapee who inspired Steve McQueen’s character in The Great Escape.
Set in late twentieth-century, post-revolutionary Southeast Asia, war correspondent Colin Frere is on assignment in Malia, a Southeast Asian state consumed by civil conflict and revolution (rooted in the history of Vietnam). This is a novel about loss: the squandering of a victory, the debasing of a revolution, and the human cost entailed. But it is also a story of love: a love for a people and a love of ideals that are worth fighting for, however much they might be (temporarily) laid low by grubby political realities and expedients.
Like a Sword Wound by Ahmet Altan; translated by Brendan Freely & Yelda Turedi
(Europa Editions, 9781787701540, p/b, £12.99)
The opening instalment of a Turkish saga, reminiscent of War and Peace, that traces not only the social currents of the time but also the erotic and emotional lives of its characters.
The first book in the Ottoman Quartet – which will tell the gripping stories of an unforgettable cast of characters, among them: an Ottoman army officer, the Sultan’s personal doctor, a scion of the royal house whose Western education brings him into conflict with his family’s legacy, and a beguiling Turkish aristocrat who, while fond of her emancipated life in Paris, finds herself drawn to a conservative Muslim spiritual leader. Intrigue, betrayal, love, war, progress, and tradition provide a colourful backdrop against which their lives play out. All the while, the society to which they belong is transforming, and the Sublime Empire disintegrates.
Our Life in the Forest by Marie Darrieussecq; translated by Penny Hueston
(Text, 9781925603781, p/b, £10.99)
A dystopian tale of chilling suspense that challenges our ideas about the future, about organ-trafficking, about identity, clones, and the place of the individual in a surveillance state.
In the near future, a woman writes from the depths of a forest. Her body, like the world around her, is falling apart – she’s down to one eye, one kidney, one lung. Before she was a psychotherapist, treating patients who had suffered trauma. Every two weeks she visited her ‘half’ – a comatose double, whose body parts were available whenever needed. As a form of resistance the woman flees, along with other fugitives and their halves. But life in the forest is disturbing too – the reanimated halves behave like uninhibited adolescents, and when she sees a shocking image of herself on video, are her worst fears confirmed?
Paris in the Dark by Robert Olen Butler
(No Exit, 9780857302458, p/b, £11.99)
Fleetly plotted and engaging with political and cultural issues that
resonate deeply today.
Autumn 1915. The First World War is raging across Europe. Woodrow Wilson has kept Americans out of the trenches, although that hasn’t stopped young men and women from crossing the Atlantic to volunteer at the front. Christopher Marlowe ‘Kit’ Cobb, a Chicago reporter and undercover agent for the US government is in Paris when he meets an enigmatic nurse called Louise. Officially in the city for a story about American ambulance drivers, Cobb is grateful for the opportunity to get to know her but soon his intelligence handler, James Polk Trask, extends his mission.
Passing by Nella Larson
(Restless Books, 9781632062024, p/b, £14.99)
A re-released classic of the Harlem Renaissance! Passing is a captivating and prescient exploration of identity, sexuality, belonging, self-invention, and race.
When childhood friends Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield come across each other at a white-only restaurant, Irene learns her estranged friend has severed all ties to their African American community and is now married to a bigoted white man unaware of her heritage. Swinging between allure and repulsion, their revived relationship becomes a stage upon which questions of identity, sexuality, belonging, and self-invention play out. This edition is beautifully illustrated by Maggie Lily and with an introduction by Darryl Pinckney
Phineas Kahn by Simon Blumenfeld
(London Books, 9780995721715, h/b, £14.95)
Opens up a window on the sweatshops, slums and synagogues of the area’s Jewish community in the early decades of the 20th century.
Simon Blumenfeld’s acclaimed second novel follows the struggles of a Jewish merchant’s son, Phineas Kahn, as he makes his escape from the confines of Tsarist Russia to Vienna and then London in 1900, where he settles to raise a large family in the liberating atmosphere but desperate poverty of the East End. Hard-working and wedded to tradition, Phineas never surrenders in his fight to achieve a better life for his wife and children, who along with his great love of music offer solace in the most difficult times.
The Son of Black Thursday by Alejandro Jodorowsky; translated by Megan McDowell
(Restless Books, 9781632060532, h/b, £19.99)
From the legendary director of The Holy Mountain, comes the follow-up autobiographical, mythopoetic portrait of the artist as a young man in 1930s Chile.
We follow his father, Jaime, who’s obsessed with assassinating the dictator he ends up serving; his mother, Sarah, a giantess who never speaks but communicates through operatic singing; his grandparents, Ukrainian Jewish exiles fleeing persecution in the Ukraine; his twin sister, who is made to suckle a mannequin until she is ten in order to silence her delirious speeches; among other creatures of every description as they struggle against the misery and oppression of the copper mines of the Chilean desert.
Training School for Negro Girls by Camille Acker
(Feminist Press, 9781936932375, p/b, £14.99)
A short story collection that navigates the vulnerability, uncertainty, and contradictions of black girl- and womanhood.
Unapologetic and resilient, the women in these short stories challenge monolithic assumptions of black identity – a TSA agent who has never flown, a girl braving new worlds to play piano, a teacher caught up in a mayoral race. In this debut collection, each of them navigate life’s ‘training school’ – with its lessons on gentrification and respectability. Throughout the early 1900s, mostly in the South, training schools taught black people practical skills in the hopes of making the world easier to navigate. Women, barely out of girlhood, were trained to follow society’s rules. Then, they would be safe. Then, they would be free… But especially when you’re black and female, society’s rules were never meant to make you safe or free.
What’s Left of the Night by Ersi Sotiropoulos; translated by Karen Emmerich
(New Vessel Press, 9781939931610, p/b, £12.99)
A lyrical novel – tinged with an hallucinatory eroticism – by celebrated Greek author Ersi Sotiropoulos, depicts Cavafy in the midst of a journey of self-discovery.
In June 1897, the young Constantine Cavafy arrives in Paris on the last stop of a long European tour, a trip that will deeply shape his future. He is by turns exhilarated and tormented by his homosexuality; the Greek-Turkish War has ended in Greece’s defeat and humiliation; France is torn by the Dreyfus Affair, and Cavafy’s native Alexandria has surrendered to the indolent rhythms of the East. A stunning portrait of a budding author – before he became C.P. Cavafy, one of the 20th century’s greatest poets.